Skellig Michael, Ireland

Photo: TechnoHippyBiker via Flickr

It doesn’t take long for your stomach to start turning. You’re just a few minutes into your 50-minute journey—you can still see the dock in Ballinskelligs—when the wind picks up. The ferry sways back and forth in the blackish water. Even the seagulls, after determining that the boat isn’t full of fish, decide to head back to shore. But you keep heading out to sea.

After an agonizing half hour, the wind mercifully dies down. You loosen your grip on the ferry’s railing. Warm sun starts to streak through parts in the clouds. Three dolphins, as if greeting you, swim along the side of the boat. While two rocky islands stand imposingly in front of you. You made it to the Skellig Islands.

Skellig Michael and Little Skellig are two uninhabited islands off the southwest coast of Ireland. Though only 900 acres combined, the two islands are very important. They’re a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the remains of an early Christian monastery. They’re home to a lighthouse, which helps guide boats toward the dangerous County Kerry coast. They’re an Important Bird Area for breeding seabirds, including Ireland’s largest colony (30,000 pairs) of northern gannets. Plus movies, like Star Wars, have been filmed here.

You happily disembark when the ferry pulls up to the concrete dock. It’s not until your feet are firmly planted on the ground that you realize how steep Skellig Michael actually is. Nearly 700 steps lead up its eastern peak to the monastery complex. It was built in the 6th century, raided by the Vikings in the 9th century, and eventually abandoned when the monks moved to Ballinskelligs in the 12th century. Pilgrims started arriving after that. A medieval church, six beehive-style huts, two oratories, and a graveyard have been remarkably well preserved. The view from them is awe-inspiring, as well.

After touring the monastery, you break away from the group to explore the rest of the island. Atlantic puffins sit on precariously perched nests. Northern fulmars circle overhead. The shrill call of black-legged kittiwakes fills the air. When you peek over the sides of the cliffs, you see large grey seals perched on rocky ledges. A leatherback sea turtle glides through the clear water next to them. Underwater cliffs, popular with scuba divers, extend 200 feet below the surface. Plus, if you stare long enough, you’ll probably see a breaching minke whale.

Hopefully, with either a prayer or the luck of the Irish, you’ll make it back to the mainland in one piece.

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